Painful Truth: Failing to plan for oil-free Alberta is planning to fail

Albertans need to think about a future without oil and gas, or they’ll be stranded there with no map.

Alberta needs to wean itself off oil.

Starting now.

We’re at a strange place in our national politics. At one and the same time, our federal leaders and (most) provincial leaders are trying to make some progress tackling climate change. Carbon taxes, green energy plans, public transit, electric vehicles, all of these things are in the works.

So are efforts to support and prop up Alberta’s oil extraction. A new expanded Trans Mountain pipeline is the big effort here. Trudeau’s Liberals support it, though the project has caused a vicious divide between the B.C. and Alberta branches of the NDP.

Why build new infrastructure now, though?

I’ve argued before that the pipeline will likely be a white elephant in the not-too-distant future.

The trend lines for a host of complementary technologies – lithium-ion batteries, solar panels, wind power, electric vehicles – are all shooting upwards. By which I mean, by every metric, those things are getting both better and cheaper, each year.

Electric cars just had their best year ever – still a small fraction of total car sales, but that will change as most new models hit the 350 to 400 kilometre range that makes them highly useful for a commute. Then there are electric buses (already taking over in China) electric SUVs (three models are planned to go on sale in 2019) and even electric pickups and semi-trailers on the drawing board.

The point is, demand for oil will fall at some point. Not next year, not the year after that. But soon. And once that demand drops, it is not coming back. Ever. Hard to get at oil, like the oil sands of northern Alberta, isn’t going to be in demand, no matter how many pipelines we have connecting us to ports and the U.S. market.

So what is Alberta to do?

Heck, I don’t know how you plan for something like this. What I do know is that you should have some kind of plan, and sooner rather than later.

So let’s say a 20-year plan. A plan in which Alberta says that this year, they pump oil, and they base a good chunk of their economy on it. But next year, they’ll pump a little less, they’ll start to transition to something else, investing those oil taxes into a new, cleaner future.

The goal is to get to pumping zero to a negligible amount of oil, over a controlled timeline, with a plan in place.

Is there a plan that will successfully re-employ all the thousands of oil company workers, drillers, construction workers, and contractors, at equivalent wages, in new industries?

Probably not.

But if Alberta doesn’t plan for a carbon free future, one will arrive anyway. And the sting will be a whole lot worse when it slaps the entire province’s economy, likely starting somewhere between 10 and 30 years from now.

The choices are pretty obvious. The world in the future will use a lot less oil and gas. Alberta can either choose to plan a (mostly) painless transition to that future, or it can put its foot down hard on the gas pedal, and drive at that cliff going full speed.


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